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The Digital Consumer

13/09/2017 By Claudia Cohen

What is Digital?

La Fosse Associates was delighted to host ‘The Digital Consumer’, a digital transformation thought leadership roundtable event, which brought together like-minded C-suite execs and directors from both traditional and digital ecommerce companies to discuss what it really means to be digital.

The evening was facilitated by John Allen, CTO of Missguided and Dave Johnson, director of digital engineering at the Co-op, who began by defining digital, to set a point of reference.

“‘Digital’ is applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations. Digital links people, things, and processes through intelligent connections. The intelligence in Web1 was manually built, in Web2 it was formed by applied analysis, and in the future the connections between people, things and process will be formed by machine learning and AI.”

Here are just some of the key takeaways from the discussion.

Double Down on Communication
You must define what being digital is in your organisation from Day 1. If you don’t, you’ll create a void and find yourself backtracking and re-starting projects due to a lack of communication. Be upfront about what it is that you want from your teams, and don’t be afraid to use examples from other industries to define what it is that you’re hoping to achieve. 
Talent is Everything
You’re only as good as the team around you.  Create diverse teams; attracting people who are different means you’ll have different ideas and different perspectives. As one guest pointed out, this can be difficult. Often you simply don’t see the right CVs to create this. So, where do you find them?

One recommendation was to take your current job spec and re-write it. Have someone different to you re-write it and ask friends and colleagues to test it for any bias. As you hire, be sure to get feedback – what was good and bad? What’s their perception of the culture within the organisation? 

Finally, our facilitators specifically mentioned two crucial hires: 
1. Hire the best InfoSec person you can. Don’t wait a year, a month or even a week. Do this on your very first day. They have a very specific set of skills, so don’t waste time trying to do it yourself. Plus, it’s better to have them as a part of the team from the beginning. 
2. Bring your ecommerce team in house. This will improve quality and efficiency. Of course, for smaller organisations without the budget, outsourcing might be the only option.  However, if you can hire specialist developers, do it and you’ll save money in the long run. Plus, bringing these guys closer to you will create a more agile environment. 

Buy-In is a Catalyst for Change
Bring executives in from the start. Being able to demonstrate wins early in the process will help build trust and senior level buy-in for the programme. Similarly, any big change project won't be without its failures; when they happen, talk about them openly and honestly.

And how do you actually get buy-in and not just empty words? Get face-time with your chief exec every two weeks.  Have their PA book it into their diary and don’t let the meeting get cancelled. Adjust the agenda to shorten it if you must, but in the end a hands-off approach isn’t useful.  Instead, have a transparent relationship and provide constant updates – even on your failures. Without this you’ll miss out having digital appreciation from senior stakeholders. 

Digital Literacy is Non-Negotiable
If you’re about to embark on a digital transformation, you must hire digitally minded individuals. And this goes beyond the tech and digital teams to everyone; finance, supply chain, operations, legal and compliance, HR, procurement - all must be competent when it comes to digital. 

How do you know when someone is digitally literate? This is a tough one, but as Dave explained, don’t go on a witch-hunt to fire and re-hire those behind the curve. Create an environment where people feel comfortable admitting their shortcomings. It’s better to upskill than have people pretend to know what it’s all about. 

And this sentiment goes from top to bottom. It’s no longer acceptable to bring a chief exec into a business that doesn’t truly understand that digital is a journey, not a goal. 

Focus on a Simple Strategy
In any digital transformation, ambition is likely to outstrip capacity.  From the outside, many B2C online companies are considered ‘purely digital’ when they have barely started on their true digital journey.  So, if you find yourself brought into a digital transformation programme, don’t get lost in the big picture.  Focus on a simple strategy, deliver it to perfection, and get early buy-in from chief execs. 

You need to make sure that all heads of the business are involved in the change from the beginning. Bring your partners in early and once you gain their trust, you can hire and build competency.  Pick a project that’s big enough to be significant, but small enough to be manageable and prove your capability to the rest of business.

This way, going forward you’ll have the space to work on objectives that are most beneficial to the organisation overall.

Don’t be Obsessed with Being Agile
Some things need to be agile. But be agile where it matters; front-end, UX, product, innovation - things with customer interaction.  However, don’t focus on it in areas where it doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in an organisation where execs want to call everything a ‘project’. But this is simply a waste of time – you’ll find yourself constantly chasing your tail rather than getting things done. 

Consider the Place of AI
Many in the ecommerce sector are interested in seeing how artificial intelligence and machine learning could become part of future digital transformations. AI could potentially be used to help simplify customer's lives - for example, many are already using chatbots for answering queries and improving efficiency, sparing customers the need to contact a call centre. So, it seems inevitable that machines will be used to further improve quality and reduce human error.  

As the evening ended, one question was left unanswered. 

When it comes to decision-making, humans can improvise and adapt based on real life in-the-moment judgment calls. So, do we actually want machines to make critical decisions for us? 

Digital transformation is essentially about providing a better customer experience - in a time of greater, and new, customer expectations.  And the key elements for success are good data, good infrastructure, good staff and time. Leaders must give staff time to develop new products and services in this exciting new era. 



Attendees at The Digital Consumer La Fosse thought leadership roundtable event

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